Along the lines of my taste experiments in the last post, I wanted to share a couple of fruit-and-herb combinations I’ve come up with over the years. I hesitate to call them recipes, but they’re good, fast, and unusual. They make refreshing side dishes, especially for a light meal, because they’re not too sweet and they play the sweetness and sometimes tartness of the fruit against something woody, green, spicy or aromatic.
Food glam mags show a host of grilled peaches and nectarines, ditto salsas, and sometimes include thyme and fresh black pepper and sage and other herbs.
I should also mention I just finished drooling my way through David Tanis’s A Platter of Figs, which has a lot of very simple, good-looking fruit desserts and accompaniments (including roasted fresh figs with thyme). I didn’t lick any of the pictures (it was a library book, after all) but it’s really the recipe instructions that appeal to me–simple and informal, with interesting and helpful notes on what seem to be missing steps in other chefs’ cookbooks. My favorite example: steam or parcook fennel bulb slices before you grill them. Makes perfect sense and explains why so many upscale restaurants serve grilled fennel that’s tough and stringy and hard to get through without landing it on your blouse.
But to get to the point–fruit+herbs=intrigue.
So why not? Here are a few of mine.
Mango with Fresh Basil
I hate to say it, but that’s about it. Seriously.
I cut a large mango in half, run a paring knife CAREFULLY as close as possible to one side of the big flat hairy pit (yes you will feel cheated unless you buy at a good price in a Latino market), take the cut half of the mango and score the flesh into a tic-tac-toe pattern, and flip the peel inside-out to pop out the cubes (slicing close to the peel). I try my best with the other half, the half with the pit stuck to it–mostly it works. Sometimes I count to make sure I still have ten fingers afterward… Combine the cubes with torn or julienned fresh basil leaves and serve with grilled white fish or the like and a green salad with vinaigrette. Purple basil looks dramatic, and you can dress this up a bit more with a few dice of red onion and a squeeze of lime juice but you don’t have to.
Canteloupe with Rosemary
Canteloupe is cheap and nutritious and complex, but usually too funky and tropical for me to eat straight up. I always want lime juice or something. Even as a grownup, more’s the pity. One night I was wondering if there were anything that would possibly make me like canteloupe better–I had a canteloupe with best intentions lingering unused in my fridge as I got less and less enthusiastic about it–and something about rosemary clicked in my head. Mint and lime juice are the classics, but I like rosemary because it’s piney and aromatic without being bitter, and something about it undercuts the unctuousness of the canteloupe and makes it taste fresher to me. You wouldn’t believe how triumphant I was when I found out this actually worked. So I ground the whole thing up (well, minus the peel) and squeezed in some lime juice and froze it for a sorbet. Also good.
Prunes or Dried Figs with Anise or Fennel Seed
I tend to eat a few of these out of hand as a snack with a little of the anise or fennel sprinkled over the top for contrast, but I’ve also chopped dried figs with a couple of chopped dried apricots, microwaved them in a little bit of water to soften to a chunky paste, then mixed in a sprinkle of anise and maybe a bit of cinnamon and used it to fill filo pastry cigares. A similar idea…
Prune Log with Pistachios and Cardamom
There’s also a very nice Moroccan-Jewish High Holiday sweet–good for this time of year–that’s a lot like the fancy pressed date/walnut or fig/Marcona almond wheels from Spain–a small wedge from the Whole Foods cheese counter can run you $5 or more, but they’re delicious sliced very thin. Anyway, this one’s a prune log with pistachios, and it’s a little more complex than the others but easy enough to make.
Simmer about a pound of pitted prunes in a little water or orange juice (you can nuke a few minutes if you prefer) and process to a very thick paste. Mix in freshly toasted pistachios and either aniseed or a good grinding of cardamom (the seeds inside, not the pods) or both, perhaps. Pack tight onto a length of plastic wrap and roll into a log, cool, and roll to coat in toasted sesame seeds. When cool and firm, slice the log very thin into rounds (it’ll be like pistachio-studded fruit leather, but a bit softer) and served on a doily-covered brass tray along with dried apricots stuffed with marzipan or walnuts and other delicacies. Mint tea, lots of it, goes with. B’te’avon! (good appetite!)